Over a Million Protesters March in Barcelona to Call for the Release of Catalan Political Prisoners

On Saturday, over a million Catalans marched in Barcelona to call for the release of the Catalan political prisoners recently imprisoned by Spain. The demonstration was given the name of “National Day for Liberty,” aiming for the same level of attendance and international impact as the yearly celebrations for Catalonia’s September 11th National Day. The demonstration filled more than three kilometers (almost 2 miles) of one of the Catalan capital’s main thoroughfares. Almost a thousand buses loaded with independentists from across the country headed to the protest in Barcelona.

At the front of the demonstration, a banner held by family members of the Catalan political prisoners and the organizers read, “Freedom for political prisoners, we are the Republic.” Attendance exceeded the expectations of the organizers, which delayed the beginning of the protest by an hour. The march lasted for 3 hours before arriving at the intersection with Avenida Icària, where a stage had been set up for speeches. That was where members of the families of the Catalan political prisoners climbed onto the stage and, one by one, read aloud letters written by the Catalan leaders in prison. The letters read:

Minister Joaquim Forn said, “Now it isn’t the time for differences,” but the moment for unity. Peace, democracy, and freedom are the values which give strength to the people of Catalonia,” he added. Ministers Meritxell Borràs and Dolors Bassa, in a joint letter, gave their thanks for the “hundreds” of letters received daily at their prison, Alcalá-Meco: “our physical distance doesn’t prevent us from feeling you near.” Minister Josep Rull said, “They’re wrong if they believe that they can imprison the will of the people”. He argued that “we’re the legitimate government because the Catalans decided so through a powerful tool: the ballot box”.

For his part, Minister Carles Mundó said, “People can be imprisoned, but nobody can imprison ideas.” “Political problems can never be solved in the court of the justice system,” he added. The Foreign Minister, Raül Romeva addressed the people, asking them “to keep their hand outstretched and the will to dialogue, without falling to provocations.” Government spokesperson Jordi Turull said, “Our bodies are in prison, but our hearts and our commitment are with you” He also called for unity: “It’s with unity that we’ve made great strides”.

Vice-president Oriol Junqueras denounced the “complicity of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) with the Spanish government in the imprisonments of democratically elected leaders like himself and their explicit support for Spain’s intervention in Catalonia’s government, which has removed any type of self-rule in Catalonia and has also installed the Spanish vice-president Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría as the Catalan president until the next elections are held.” He said that he and the other imprisoned ministers are the “scapegoats” of the Spanish state to frighten the independence movement.

The leaders of the two major Catalan grassroots organizations, Jordi Cuixart (ANC) and Jordi Sànchez (Òmnium), who were also imprisoned, sent messages to be read out by their family members to the million plus protesters gathered at Saturday’s demonstration.

Jordi Cuixart said, “great obstacles are for great spirits,” whilst Jordi Sànchez called on the Catalans to vote on the December 21st Catalan general elections. “Our strength is our unity, let nobody doubt that we will win.” The rally ended with messages sent by President Puigdemont and the members of his cabinet from Brussels.

 

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The Imprisonment of Two Catalonian pro-Independence Civil Rights Leaders and its Effects

On Monday of last week, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, the leaders of the two major Catalonian pro-independence civil organizations, were arbitrarily imprisoned by the Spanish National Court for sedition (punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment). The judge accused them of organizing violent demonstrations against the Spanish police on September 20th when numerous Catalonia’s high-ranking officials were detained after the police raided numerous Catalan government offices. Nonetheless, numerous videos contradict those claims, showing Cuixart and Sànchez calling on the peaceful protesters to dissolve the demonstrations of that day, while organizing a security cordon in order to allow the Spanish police to finish their tasks and leave the place in a safe manner.

Cuixart and Sànchez first learned of their arbitrary detention through the media a week before their testimony at the Spanish National Court. Numerous journalists reported Spanish high-ranking officials, prosecutors, and judges talking to each other about their imminent imprisonment during a unionist march in Barcelona downtown.

This manner of imposing “justice” on Catalonia’s civil rights leaders – similar to the one used by Erdogan in Turkey – demonstrates that the Spanish judicial system is politicized and controlled by the Spanish government, which uses it as a weapon to incarcerate its opponents in order to defend its own political interests.

Even though and in parallel, the Spanish government is fabricating an unrealistic story in an attempt to convince the international community that the Spanish judicial system is neutral – even though most members of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court are elected by the two major political parties in parliament – and that Spain has never used force against the Catalonians – despite the fact that Spanish police injured some 1,000 during the October 1st referendum.

By doing so, the Spanish government appears to be attempting to hide the real reason behind Cuixart and Sànchez’s imprisonments which is, of course, their astonishing capacity to mobilize more than 100,000 people through social media accounts, wherever they want, within two or three hours.

If the Spanish government ever thought that by detaining civil rights leaders such as Cuixart and Sànchez, Catalonia’s pro-independence movement would be brought to its knees, it deeply lacks knowledge about Catalan society, when it comes to the active defense of civil rights and the self-government achieved by the prior generation through diverse fights against Franco’s dictatorship.

On the contrary, Cuixart and Sànchez’s detentions have broadened pro-independence social support, which has grown to numbers never seen before. In the aftermath of their imprisonment, some 200,000 people took to the streets to protest against this decision, and some other thousands across Spain joined pro-Catalonian organizations Omnium Cultural and Assemblea Nacional Catalana, which may soon be declared illegal according to government sources.

In a few hours, the Spanish government will invoke Article 155 to suspend the Catalonian government, dismiss the Catalan President and ministers, who were democratically elected by the people, in an attempt to install high-ranking officials from Madrid who will take control of the Catalan government, public media agencies, and the police in order to restore “the Spanish constitutional order” and call for a snap general election without international standards and with most pro-independence forces suspended.

Far from being afraid of being in prison for up to 15 years for sedition, Sànchez and Cuixart have delivered the following message through their lawyers from prison to all Catalonians:

We feel good and strong!We are ready and prepare to be in prison for a long time! The fact that since our imprisonment, things have developed very much in favor of the independence of Catalonia make us feel stronger! Please, don’t step back: go all out and proclaim the independence, and defend it, until the very end, but always peacefully! Remember, we are well and strong!(A few weeks before of their imprisonment, they both said that there were not enough prisons to jail all Catalans, and they are certainly right.)

On the eve of the Spanish full intervention of Catalonia’s government, Catalan society appears to be more unified than ever; the government, political prisoners, federalists, teachers, firefighters, journalists from public media agencies, doctors, policemen / women, civil servants, etc. appear to be willing to disobey any type of Spanish intervention order in an attempt to halt it. They are willing to take this action -aware that they could be imprisoned by Madrid authorities- in defense of the new Catalonian Republic, civil-rights, and the self-government achieved by the prior generation.

If Article 155 is finally implemented by the Spanish government in a few hours, Catalonia’s government, ministers, and thousands of people are expected to be arrested, mistreated, tortured, discriminated against, etc. for the upcoming months. Nonetheless, if Catalonians are able to keep unified as one, disobey any type of Spanish intervention order, and hold continuous mass protests in the streets in defense of their civil-rights and self-determination, sooner or later the international community will be forced to intervene in order to prevent harm (to Catalonia and its people).

As aforementioned, Spain can jail thousands of Catalonians, from journalists, to civil-rights organizers, to students, but it will…” but it will never be able to jail all Catalonians!So the high level of unity, the loss of fear, and the perseverance of the people will determine the success of Catalonia’s process of independence.

The Week that Spain Lost Catalonia

The detention of 15 high-ranking officials and the suspension of the Catalan government, last week by the Spanish government, in order to halt the referendum on independence set for tomorrow appears to have united separatists, federalists, and a significant number of unionists in defense of the vote.

“I have always been opposed to this referendum, because I am a federalist. However, the latest Spanish aggressions against Catalonia in order to humiliate our people is intolerable. That’s the main reason why I have decided to vote, and I will vote “YES” because I do not want to belong to a dictatorship like Turkey any longer. I think that the creation of a new state would give us the chance to build a more fair country and society” said David, a Barcelona citizen.

My family and I have always voted for unionist parties. We like Spain and most of our friends are from Madrid. Nevertheless, the Spanish repression of the Catalans this week is unacceptable. The government has violated the international law and has restricted the freedom of expression in Catalonia. They have raided printing shops, newspapers offices, and forbidden Catalan editors from advertising the referendum. Last week, they suspended our government and detained a number of our democratically elected representatives. Until this week, I was not going to vote in the referendum because I have always been a unionist, but Spain does not give me any other option. I will go to vote “YES” because this is no longer a referendum on independence, it is all about “Democracy” VS “Dictatorship,” said Marta, a Barcelona businesswoman.

The Catalan government has had serious problems in mobilizing the “unionists” for this referendum until the past week. Most of them thought that they could defeat the Catalan President by promoting a boycott of the vote. However, the latest Spanish aggressions against Catalan institutions have changed the situation, and it appears now that the vast majority of unionists are willing to support the referendum, in order to preserve democracy. This could result in a historic turnout that cannot be ignored by the international community.

The constant attacks against Catalonia by the Spanish government have also united separatists, federalists, and several unionist political parties, which are now calling on the people for mass participation in the referendum. Additionally, they are planning a social/labor indefinite general strike starting on October 3rd, in order to collapse the Spanish economy, if Spain does not recognize the results of the vote.

Although the Catalan government has always been committed to carrying out the referendum, there has always been serious doubts about the validation of the results. However, it seems that the latest anti-democratic actions against Catalonia by Spain have already guaranteed the international recognition of the results, whatever they may be.

1 Million People Attend a Pro-Independence Rally in Barcelona

On Monday, one million pro-independence supporters gathered in Barcelona for the National Day of Catalonia, three weeks before the key independence referendum on October 1st.

The city’s streets were flooded with hundreds of thousands of people several hours before the rally organized by the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural was set to begin. According to the organizers, up to 2000 buses from cities all over Catalonia made the journey to the capital.

The rally began at 5.14 PM with one minute’s silence held in remembrance of the victims of the Barcelona and Cambrils terror attacks. Spirits were high as the atmosphere changed from one of anticipation to eager excitement and optimism with hopes for a positive result in the coming referendum.

Four banners with messages of peace, independence and liberty were passed along by the protesters in a show of unity.

Voting has never been a crime,” President of Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart, addressed the crowd of thousands. “In spite of their fears and threats, we have our own laws based on international legislation. The Spanish courts no longer defend the collective interests of the Catalan people… They want to silence democracy.”

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and representative of the Tunisian Human Rights League Ahmed Galai was also present. A key supporter of Catalan independence, he inspired crowds with his speech stating that “referendum is democracy.” After key speeches made by organizers and pro-independence politicians, crowds began to disperse at around 7 pm.

This year, the annual pro-independence rally was more crucial than ever, since it came in the context of an all-out confrontation between the Spanish and Catalan governments. A few days before the rally was held, the international community said that a low turnout would weaken the legitimacy of the Catalan government‘s disobedience of the Spanish government and Supreme Court in holding the independence referendum set for October 1st.

Nevertheless, the spectacular turn out of 1 million people demanding that the Catalan government hold the referendum, no matter what, appears to have given the necessary legitimacy to the Catalan President to disobey the politicized Spanish Supreme Court and the Spanish government.

After Monday’s mass rally, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said this morning during an interview that he and his government will not accept a hypothetical suspension of their mandate by the Spanish Supreme Court. He added that from now on, he will only follow the Catalan legislation which stipulates that he can only be suspended by the Catalonian people. He also stressed that not only is holding a referendum on independence not illegal, but a right spelled out in the two 1966 UN Conventions on Human Rights which the Spanish Constitution recognizes as the supreme law of the land.

Last week, Catalonia’s parliament passed two crucial laws: the law of the referendum, which allows the government to hold the unilateral independence referendum in October, and the law of “transitorietat” that will only be applied if most Catalans vote in favor of the independence in the referendum. This law would serve as a new constitution until the new one is written, approved, and voted via referendum by the Catalonian people.

It is expected that the tension between the Spanish and Catalan governments will grow to limits never before seen in democracy during the days prior to the referendum. The Spanish government will try to prevent the referendum from happening by all means, but, if it is held in the end, the most important indicators for the international community to validate the results will be the turnout, the opinion of the international observers, and the transparency of the process.

Poor Media Coverage of the Barcelona Terror Attack

On Thursday, CNN, Fox News, ABC News, BBC, CBS, The Guardian, and Telecinco’ coverage of the terror attack in Barcelona, in which fourteen people died and a hundred were injured after a van plowed into crowds of tourists in Las Ramblas, appeared to be inaccurate and harmful to the victims.

CBS News, CNN, and FOX News were the first to broadcast videos of the victims bleeding to death, causing trauma for families who discovered through TV that their loved ones had died. These networks also spread falsehoods such as that there was a hostage situation in a restaurant and that numerous fugitive terrorists were carrying long-range weapons through Barcelona’s streets, which caused terror and endangered the ongoing police operation.

Sadly, the same media had already misreported previous terror attacks such as the latest in London and Manchester. This time, however, thousands of people complained about what they saw as a ratings grab. However, the aforementioned media justified their misreporting, suggesting that in the aftermath of a terror attack it is normal that witnesses give them false information because they are confused.

All of this despite the fact that the Catalonian government had enabled numerous communication lines with the press from where it was giving regular updates about the ongoing investigation and the police operation in order to prevent the media misreporting. The government asserted that the only reliable information was what they were providing through the aforementioned channels.

It is also important to highlight that part of the media did a great job by verifying all the information before broadcasting it. The lack of seriousness of some ‘prestigious’ media has as its ultimate goal to grow their audiences regardless of the veracity and the possible negative consequences that their actions may have in the aftermath of a terror attack.

This sort of coverage has raised many questions about the implementation of new restraints on the media; for example, to pixel the faces of victims of terrorism in the aftermath of terror attacks in order to respect their families and prevent these episodes from happening again.

Indeed, if implemented a new regulation should always respect the freedom of the press in all cases. This would only be to protect the victims of terrorism and their families because they deserve to be the first to know how their loved ones are without watching their mutilated bodies on TV.

 

French Election

On Sunday, France held the first round of the presidential election cum referendum on EU membership. Emmanuel Macron won the largest share of the votes with 24% of the vote, followed close behind by Marine Le Pen with 21.3%. Thus, these two candidates will now compete for the French presidency in a runoff vote on May 7.

During his first interview after the election, Macron said,

The French people have decided to put me at the top in the first round of the vote,” “I’m aware of the honor and the responsibility that rests on my shoulders.”

In contrast, Marine Le Pen said that the outcome of the election was “an act of French pride” and called on French citizens to support her in order to defeat Islamist terrorism.

On Monday, Ms. Le Pen quickly renewed her attacks on Mr. Macron calling him “weakling” for his anti-terrorism policies.

The defeated candidates also gave their opinions about the outcome of the election and called on French citizens to support Emmanuel Macron against the xenophobic Marine Le Pen in the runoff vote on May 7.

The socialist Benoît Hamon, with 6% of the votes, was the first to concede and called on his supporters to vote against Marine Le Pen.

Fillon conceded with a 40-minute speech:

“The obstacles in my path were too many and too cruel,” he said. I accept responsibility for this loss,” added Fillon, asking his constituents to remain united and determined going forward into the French parliamentary elections. The defeated leader said he had ”no choice but to vote against the extreme right.” “I will vote in favor of Emmanuel Macron,” he concluded.

Jean-Luc Melenchon refused to say who he would back, criticizing both candidates for having “no stance on the environment or the future of civilization, and who both challenge the welfare and social model of the country.” He also said that the 500,000 members of his organization, La France Insoumise, will hold a vote to decide whether to support Macron, cast a blank vote, or abstain in the runoff vote in May.

The current President, François Hollande called on French citizens to reject far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and back Macron in the runoff on May 7.

For the first time in six decades, neither of France’s main left-wing or right-wing parties had a candidate remaining in the run-off election.

The outcome of the first round of the French election portrays a terrifying scenario. French citizens will now have to choose between Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker who represents the establishment, and Marine Le Pen, a xenophobe who wants to destroy the EU and expel millions of legal resident immigrants in the name of fighting terrorism.

Macron’s victory would probably lead to the French working class losing purchasing power, which, in the short-term, will weaken the French economy. On the other hand, Le Pen’s victory would be catastrophic. She wants to hold a referendum on EU membership, and expel millions of immigrants who sustain the French economy.

According to recent polls, Emmanuel Macron will win the second round with 59% of the vote. However, experts have suggested that there is a factor which could give Le Pen the presidency: so-called Islamist terrorism.They think that a major terrorist attack in the next week in France would send a shock wave through French society, giving Le Pen a real chance of becoming president.

Paradoxically, Marine Le Pen wants to eradicate terrorism and Islamist terrorists want to assassinate her. However, they need each other to survive for the following reasons:

1- Marine Le Pen needs a terrorist attack to have any hope of victory.

2- Islamist terrorists need Le Pen to cause chaos in Europe if they want to spread their ideas and attract new militants.

While French citizens await the outcome of the runoff vote on May 7, the establishment is endorsing Emmanuel Macron in order to instate a new financial dictatorship in France if he becomes president. Marine Le Pen, meanwhile, has renounced her membership in the National Front (her political party) while being endorsed by Trump and U.S. alt-right organizations.

It is clear, then, that Neither Le Pen nor Macron will transform French society into a fairer one. Thus, the only thing that French citizens can do is organize and prepare themselves for a long battle against the unfair measures implemented by their next president.

Wilder’s Defeat and the European Union

On Wednesday, the Netherlands held the most important general election since the creation of the European Union. Most analysts suggested that, without a doubt, its results would determine the political future of the European project (including a potential dissolution).

After the rise of fascism in countries such as the UK and the US, the odds of victory for xenophobic and anti-European parties represented in the Netherlands by Geert Wilders, were higher than ever.

Over the last year, Wilders had expressed his desire to split with the European Union countless times, and the fear of that happening turned the Dutch elections into a referendum. As a result, the 13 million citizens eligible to vote had in their hands the hard task of deciding whether to remain in the EU or open a Pandora’s Box and begin its dissolution.

Months before the elections, the predictions were clearly favorable for Wilders. Most of the national polls suggested a clear victory for him, and some of them gave him 46% of the vote. On the other side, his great rival, the previous prime minister and candidate, Mark Rutte, spent most of the campaign persuading Dutch citizens that Wilders was “on the wrong side of populism.” His chances of winning were very low since most of the polls gave him catastrophic results.

However, (and fortunately for the European Union), the above-mentioned prognosis was erroneous, and despite winning 5 more seats than in the previous elections, the VPP of Wilders obtained 20 seats out of 150.

The winner of the elections was the VVD of Rutte who obtained 33 seats, 13 ahead of Wilders. Despite losing 8 seats compared to the previous elections, he declared that he was euphoric with the results. Considering that not even the most optimistic person believed in his victory, the final results were extraordinarily good.

Despite his victory, Rutte will have a hard task going forward if he wants to become the next prime minister for the third consecutive time. His victory is insufficient to form a government. For that reason, he will need to negotiate with at least three more political parties to form a coalition. Due to the complexity of the situation, it will take several months before he can form a stable government.

Dutch citizens delivered a clear message to the international community:

“We want neither bigotry nor populism in our country.”

Despite the citizens’ clear message refusing bigotry and populism, no one should forget that millions of them voted for Rutte because it was considered the best option to defeat Wilders. He represents the establishment, and as such, he will put the interests of the wealthy before those of the middle and working class.

Without a doubt, the defeat of Wilders was great news for the European Union, and this will contribute to decreasing populism in other countries. However, there is still a lot of work to do in the Netherlands to build a fair society where no one is discriminated against regardless of sexual, political, and religious orientation.

For the moment, the European Union has been able, temporarily, stall a critical threat to its existence. But unless its structure changes soon and the EU brings about equality among all its Members States, the alleged fascist’s populism will become a serious menace for the EU again.

The Truth is that the European Union has lost the appeal that it once had. The existing inequalities among member states in the EU, (notably ascendent Germany, which during the hardest moments of the global financial crisis, far from being supportive, took away benefits from the poorest countries in the Union), have contributed to the rise of populism all across Europe.

When countries such as Greece were going through catastrophic times, the German economy was in perfect condition without any signs of weakness. Later it was revealed that Germany took away vitality from countries such as Greece by demanding they pay back loans with exorbitant interest rates.

It is clear then that, without structural changes and more equality, the dissolution of the European Union will soon be inevitable.

Pending the arrival of big structural changes, the European Union will soon be tested again in upcoming elections in Germany and France. Fortunately, now that the Dutch elections are over, populism will not have many chances to win, but as I have said, structural changes must soon be done or it (populism) may increase its odds to obtain good results.